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North Side vs Merrillville: Five things to watch

North Side junior Brandan Johnson has played tremendous defense during the Legends' postseason run. Can he do it again on Saturday against Merrillville? (News-Sentinel file photo)
North Side junior Brandan Johnson has played tremendous defense during the Legends' postseason run. Can he do it again on Saturday against Merrillville? (News-Sentinel file photo)
Getting Jaylen Butz going early is a big part of North Side's game. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Getting Jaylen Butz going early is a big part of North Side's game. (News-Sentinel file photo)
Will sophomore Keion Brooks Jr. help North Side to its first state championship appearance since 1965? (News-Sentinel file photo)
Will sophomore Keion Brooks Jr. help North Side to its first state championship appearance since 1965? (News-Sentinel file photo)

More Information

CLASS 4A NORTH SEMISTATE 

What:
North Side (26-2) vs. Merrillville (21-7)
Where: Huntington North High School
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $8
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Thursday, March 16, 2017 09:01 pm
When North Side takes to the floor at Huntington North on Saturday evening, the goal will be simple — to reach the state championship for the first time in 52 years.  The team in the way of breaking the drought is Merrillville, a squad that, despite not garnering much in the way of statewide recognition through the season, is clearly one of the most talented teams in Class 4A, one that has peaked at the right time. 

Here are five things to watch Saturday night with a berth in the 4A state title game on the line: 

1. AGGRESSIVENES 



Both North Side and Merrillville attack the basket with regularity. The Legends (26-2) were able to get both Homestead and Carmel in foul trouble last weekend by utilizing Jaylen Butz on the block and not backing down from driving straight to the basket off the dribble. 

Merrillville has a similar approach. The Pirates are not shy about going to the hoop and attempting to finish with authority. 

With the way the game is officiated always being an X-factor, one of the keys Saturday will be which team can attack and put the other team in a disadvantageous position of dealing with foul trouble with its taller players. For Merrillville, that is 6-foot-5 Cameron Wilbon and 6-7 Mileek McMillan. For North, that is 6-11 Jaylen Butz and 6-8 Keion Brooks Jr. 

"In the postseason, the (officials) allow you to be a bit more physical and assertive," North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq said. "Hopefully with that assertive style, we can establish that inside game."

2. GUARDING AGAINST COMPLACENCY



Back in December, North Side went to a neutral site and knocked off Lawrence North in convincing fashion. 

Riding high and buying into their hype, the Legends returned to the court six days later and fell to Snider in overtime. 

Khaliq doesn't want a similar thing to happen this Saturday in a game that many consider North Side the favorite.

"Our guys are locked in, but we have to guard against being complacent," said Khaliq. "Merrillville is here for a reason. They deserve to be here and our guys have to understand that.

"They aren't going to be afraid of us."

Getting that message through to his players will be essential on Saturday. 

3. JONAH JACKSON



While the duo of Wilbon and McMillan will be problem enough for North to defend, another weapon is sharpshooter Jonah Jackson. 

Just how much does Jackson love the three ball? He has taken 276 field goal attempts this season, 216 of which have been from beyond the arc. He has connected on 90 of them (41 percent). 

"When you watch him, every time the ball leaves his hands it looks like it's going in," said Khaliq about Jackson. "He is comfortable anywhere on the floor and he is a scary kid to deal with because of that."

North Side has had the benefit of having to limit three-point specialists in recent games. In the regional semifinal, it was Homestead's Jack Ferguson, while in the regional championship the Legends had to account for Carmel's Sterling Brown. The Legends played both well and limited opportunities. 

Jackson and sixth man Johnny Bernard have accounted for 75 percent of Merrillville's three-point makes this season. North Side will have to account for both at all times as it attempts to keep the Pirates from heating up from the outside. 

4. ESTABLISHING JAYLEN BUTZ

It is no secret what the Legends will want to do early in Saturday's game. Much like they did against Snider, Homestead and Carmel this postseason, expect North to attempt to feed their big man Butz in the paint and establish that part of their offensive game. 

Butz went for 17 points and 15 rebounds against Homestead and dropped 14 and eight in the regional final against Carmel. 

When North is able to get Butz (17.4 ppg, 12.4 rpg) going early, it opens up a myriad of offensive options for Brooks, Juan Quarles and others from the outside and on the dribble drive. Look for Merrillville to attempt to limit Butz's touches and make the Legends find other scoring options. 

5. THE LITTLE THINGS



Who wins the rebounding battle?

Which team knocks down free throws more consistently? 

Who has more hustle plays? 

Despite all the matchup breakdowns and stats, a berth in the 4A state championship is going to come down to the things not often recognized. 

Merrillville plays extremely hard and aggressive at all times, can North Side match that intensity? 

Can Brandan Johnson come up with another Herculean defensive effort? 

After five straight games with less than 70 points, a season-high drought, is North due for an offensive explosion? 

These are the things nearly impossible to predict but what will likely decide which 4A squad is representing the northern half of the state next weekend in Indianapolis. 

 

More Information

CLASS 4A NORTH SEMISTATE 

What:
North Side (26-2) vs. Merrillville (21-7)
Where: Huntington North High School
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $8

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